By all accounts, the head nurse at the University of Utah Hospitalâs burn unit was professional and restrained when she told a Salt Lake City police detective he wasnât allowed to draw blood from a badly injured patient.
The detective didnât have a warrant, first off. And the patient wasnât conscious, so he couldnât give consent. Without that, the detectiveÂ was barred from collecting blood samples âÂ not just by hospital policy, but by basic constitutional law.
Still, Detective Jeff Payne insisted that he be let in to take the blood, saying the nurse would be arrested and charged if she refused.
Nurse Alex Wubbels politely stood her ground. She got her supervisor on the phone so Payne could hear the decision loud and clear. âSir,â said the supervisor, âyouâre making a huge mistake because youâre threatening a nurse.â
Payne snapped. He seized hold of the nurse, shoved her out of the building and cuffed her hands behind her back. A bewildered Wubbels screamed âhelp meâ and âyouâre assaulting meâ as the detective forced her into an unmarked car and accused her of interfering with an investigation.
On Friday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill saidÂ he wanted a criminal investigation into the incident. Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Police Chief Mike Brown apologized to the nurse in a statement. âI extend a personal apology to Ms. Wubbels for what she has been through for simply doing her job,â the mayor said.
The explosive July 26 encounter was captured on officersâ body cameras and is now the subject of an internal investigation by the police department, as theÂ Salt Lake Tribune reported. TheÂ videos were released by the Tribune, the Deseret News and other local media.
On top of that, Wubbels was right. The U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly ruled that blood can only be drawn from drivers for probable cause, with a warrant.
Wubbels, who was not criminally charged, played the footage at a news conference Thursday with her attorney. They called on police to rethink their treatment of hospital workers and said they had not ruled out legal action.
âI just feel betrayed, I feel angry, I feel a lot of things,â Wubbels said. âAnd Iâm still confused.â
Salt LakeÂ police spokesman Sgt. Brandon Shearer initially told local media that PayneÂ had been suspended from the departmentâs blood draw unit but remained on active duty. But late Friday, the police departmentâs Twitter feed said that Payne and another unnamed officer had been placed on administrative leave.
It all started when a suspect speeding away from police in a pickup truck on a local highway smashed head-on into a truck driver, as local media reported.Â Medics sedated the truck driver, who was severely burned, and took him to the University of UtahÂ Hospital. HeÂ arrived in a comatose state, according to the Deseret News. The suspect died in the crash.
A neighboring police department sent Payne, a trained police phlebotomist, to collect blood from the patient and check for illicit substances, as the Tribune reported.Â The goal was reportedly to protect the trucker, who was not suspected of a crime. His lieutenant ordered him to arrest Wubbels ifÂ she refused to let himÂ draw a sample, according to the Tribune.
A 19-minute video from the body camera of a fellow officer shows the bitter argument that unfolded on the floor of the hospitalâs burn unit. (Things get especially rough around the 6-minute mark).
A group of hospitalÂ officials, security guards and nurses are seen pacing nervously in the ward. Payne can be seen standing in a doorway, arms folded over his black polo shirt, waiting as hospital officials talk on the phone.
âSo why donât we just write a search warrant,âÂ the officer wearing the body camera says to Payne.
âThey donât have PC,â Payne responds, using the abbreviation for probable cause, which police must have to get a warrant for search and seizure. He adds that he plans to arrest the nurse if she doesnât allow him to draw blood. âIâve never gone this far,â he says.
After several minutes, WubbelsÂ showsÂ Payne and the other officer a printout of the hospitalâs policy on obtaining blood samples from patients. With her supervisor on speakerphone, she calmly tells them they canât proceed unlessÂ they have a warrant or patient consent, or if the patient is under arrest.
âThe patient canât consent, heâs told me repeatedly that he doesnât have a warrant, and the patient is not under arrest,â she says. âSo Iâm just trying to do what Iâm supposed to do, thatâs all.â
âSo I take it without those in place, Iâm not going to get blood,â Payne says.
Wubbelsâs supervisor chimes in on the speakerphone. âWhy are you blaming the messenger,â he asks Payne.
âSheâs the one that has told me no,â the officer responds.
âSir, youâre making a huge mistake because youâre threatening a nurse,â Wubbelsâs supervisor says over the phone.
At that point, Payne seems to lose it.
He paces toward the nurse and tries to swat the phone out of her hand. âWeâre done here,â he yells. He grabs Wubbels by the arms and shoves her through the automatic doors outside the building.
Wubbels screams. âHelp! Help me! Stop! Youâre assaulting me! Stop! Iâve done nothing wrong! This is crazy!â
Payne presses her into a wall, pulls her arms behind her back and handcuffs her. Two hospital officials tell him to stop, that sheâs doing her job, but he ignores them.
âI canât believe this! What is happening?â Wubbels says through tears as the detective straps her into the front seat of his car.
Another officer arrives andÂ tells her sheÂ should have allowed Payne to collect the samples he asked for. He says she obstructed justiceÂ and prevented PayneÂ from doing his job.
âIâm also obligated to my patients,â she tells the officer. âItâs not up to me.â
In Thursdayâs news conference, Wubbelsâs attorney Karra PorterÂ said that Payne believed he was authorized to collect the blood under âimplied consent,â according to the Tribune. But Porter said âimplied consentâ law changed in Utah a decade ago. And in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that warrantless blood tests were illegal. Porter called Wubbelsâs arrest unlawful.
âThe law is well-established. And itâs not what we were hearing in the video,â she said. âI donât know what was driving this situation.â
Wubbels has worked as a nurse at the hospital since 2009, according to the Tribune. She was previously an Alpine skier who competed under her maiden nameÂ in the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics.
As a health-care worker, she said it was her job to keep her patients safe.
âA blood draw, it just gets thrown around like itâs some simple thing,â she said, according to theÂ Deseret News. âBut your blood is your blood. Thatâs your property.â
For now, Wubbels is notÂ taking any legal action against police. But sheâs not ruling it out.
âI want to see people do the right thing first and I want to see this be a civil discourse,â she said Thursday, according to the Deseret News. âIf thatâs not something thatâs going to happen and thereÂ is refusal to acknowledge the need for growth and the need for re-education, then we will likely be forced to take that type of step. But people need to know that this is out there.â
â Mayor J. Biskupski (@slcmayor) September 1, 2017
This story has been updated.Â
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